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Papua New Guinea update

Rabaul Dive Club Newsletter - May 1988

Communicated by Lilian Hayball

Reproduced from in focus 30 (January 1989)

Papua New Guinea

Rabaul, occupied by several thousand Japanese troops during WW2, is the capital of East New Britain, an island which was strategically placed for invasion of nearby mainland Papua New Guinea, and ultimately Australia.



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In October 1986 an American Air Force single seater fighter plane was found in Rabaul harbour and later identified as an Airocobra P39. As this is the only American single engined plane discovered in the Rabaul harbour the following information is supplied for those who are interested in diving on it.

The plane is lying upright and flat on the harbour floor in approximately 35 feet of water. The main features of the aircraft remaining are the three propeller blades, the spinner and bottom third of the cockpit area, 'roll-cage' bar behind the pilot's seat, the structural framework of both wings and the complete engine.

The unusual feature of the P39 is that the 12 cylinder engine is located behind the pilot with the propeller shaft going between the pilot's legs. The following is a Missing in Action Report compiled by Captain Edwin T. Bailey, dated 13 March, 1944.

'My flight consisted of myself, Lts. Bodge, Shavak and LeDoux. We took off from Green,lsland (off the north-eastern coast of Australia) at 11.45 hrs, March 12, 1944. We were over the Duke of York Islands (outside Rabaul Harbour) at 12.25 hrs. We began weaving and dodging, letting down slowly to 15000 feet to begin our dive on the target, Rabaul City. We made our approach from north to south, releasing our bombs at 6000 feet, making a sharp left turn over that target.

The last time I saw Lt. Bodge was at the beginning of his dive over Rabaul at 12. 30 hrs. The clouds at 8000 feet caused my flight to lose sight of him after he began his dive. I led my flight out to the rally point five miles east of Cape Gazelle (behind Rabaul), and joined Major Collins, our section leader. I reported Lt. Bodge missing as we circled the rally point. We then called Major Twichell, leader of the second section, to be on the lookout for Lt. Bodge. We then proceeded back to Green Island (Australia), landing at 13.30 hrs.

I took off as soon as we could get serviced at 14. 45 hrs and led a flight of 12 aircraft back to Rabaul on a search mission for Lt. Bodge. We searched the Rabaul area for 50 minutes at 500 feet, including the entire St. Georges Channel area and the coastline from Loweo Point to Raluana Point to Cape Gazelle. We found no trace of a downed aircraft and returned to Green Island, landing there at 16.45 hrs.'

Lt. Bodge is still listed as missing in action.

As a sequel to the discovery of the aircraft, a team from the Central Identification Laboratory, Honolulu, inspected the aircraft in January 1988. if anyone is interested in diving on the Airocobra P39, then contact Malcolm Archbold, Rabaul Dive Club, P.O. Box 106 Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.'

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